When Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) first finished his two-and-a-half hour ballet Romeo and Juliet in 1935, it seemed the natural thing to take some of the more prominent musical episodes and collect them into orchestral suites. These collections are remarkably varied in tone and invention. Two of the suites, with seven pieces each, share the same opus number as the complete ballet (Op. 64, although oddly designated “64bis” and “64ter”). A collection of ten of the pieces arranged for piano was published as Op. 75, and yet a third symphonic suite of six pieces was published later as Op. 101.
Demers has now arranged her own suite for organ using five pieces that have been included in the various suites that Prokofiev arranged himself, and four other pieces that were not. These four new selections are arranged like a medley into a fifth movement, ending with the famous “Montagues and Capulets” theme (also known as “Dance of the Knights”), which probably rivals Peter and the Wolf as the most famous music Prokofiev ever wrote.
Demers explains what compelled her to create her own suite in the following way: “Prokofiev’s setting is – in my humble opinion – the greatest setting of Romeo and Juliet, because of the variety of moods that he is able to represent musically. In choosing a few excerpts from the ballet, I’ve tried to convey that variety. ‘Street Awakens’ is rather comical; so is ‘Romeo at the Fountain,’ though it also has a hint of lyricism. ‘Madrigal’ is a small balcony scene; the middle section, during which Romeo and Juliet meet, is so moving, even after hearing and playing it hundreds of times! ‘Morning Serenade’ is a bit funny, but also slightly sinister, as it’s ultimately a funeral march disguised as a serenade. The last movement is sheer action and drama, and ends with the most beloved passage of the ballet – ‘Montagues and Capulets’.”
Above all, this final fifth movement, which is linked together from various non-ordered parts of the ballet, demonstrates a highly contrapuntal writing, which Prokofiev is not usually noted for, but could certainly be quite masterful with. One suspects Demers has actually created here something beyond a merely functional suite of new transcriptions.